LOS ANGELES — The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated a need for the restaurant industry to change and adapt to the times.

What You Need To Know

  • The RE:Her nonprofit awarded 15 female-owned restaurants who served their communities well during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • The pandemic has seriously hampered business for many restaurants

  • Costs for food supplies have gone up anywhere from 20 to 30% for one local restaurant

Local restaurants struggled. Many got creative. Some gave back to their communities in meaningful ways during the pandemic, and a grant from local nonprofit RE:Her recognized their work. The grants help to answer: what is the future of restaurants?

At 24 years old, Nayomie Mendoza is already running the family business: Cuernavaca's Grill, in downtown’s fashion district.

“I’ve been able to connect with so many people who are in the same place as me, and we just talk about the struggles, and I’m so proud of how far we’ve come,” Mendoza said.

By “we,” Mendoza is referring to her father. Marcos Mendoza handed the restaurant over to his daughter a few years ago, and now they run it side by side.

“It’s really beautiful. I really like to teach her, so that she can then teach others,” Marcos said, speaking Spanish.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Mendoza family or Cuernavaca's Grill. Like so many other restaurants, the pandemic seriously hampered their business. Now, with rising inflation, Mendoza has had to recommit herself to serving her community faithfully.

Though costs for food supplies have gone up anywhere from 20 to 30%, Mendoza says she refuses to pass the buck onto her customers.

“When I was growing up we were working class, and we didn’t have the accessibility to go to a restaurant every weekend. But we want Cuernavaca's Grill to be that place,” she said.

In order to keep the restaurant at that affordable level, Mendoza says she has transitioned the restaurant to making everything in-house from scratch. It’s this grit and determination, for such a young entrepreneur, that won Mendoza the RE:Her grant.

Heather Sperling is the owner of Botanica Restaurant and Market, and a founding member of RE:Her. She was part of the committee that poured over applications and awarded the grants. Sperling says that, while giving back to the community wasn’t a requirement, all the grantees had that element in their business model — which speaks to the future of the restaurant industry at large.

“What we really see as the future of the restaurant industry, is restaurants seeing themselves as community businesses,” Sperling said. “Really thinking about the community within their four walls, teams, their diners, and moving our industry forward to a more sustainable, a more nourishing, a more truly hospitable place.”

The Nickel Diner, on the edge of downtown's skid row, also won the grant because it embodies similar values. At the start of the pandemic, owners Monica May and Kris Trattner transitioned their diner into a soup kitchen, and continue to feed the unhoused community on a weekly basis.

May agrees that in order to be a sustainable restaurant, community welfare has to be a major contributing factor.

“Why did you open? Who are you going to feed? What is your intent?” And that’s the thing is, I don’t think you can have a restaurant today without having that intent behind it,” May said.

For Mendoza, her intent remains to keep her downtown community fed for reasonable costs, and to work side by side with her father to steer the family business into the next generation.

“One of our dishes is big enough to feed an entire family. It’s such a joy to see families coming in every Saturday,” she said.

The Re:Her 2022 grant application process will begin soon. To keep updated, visit here.